Judges to listen to victims before deciding bail terms

Judges will have to listen to victims of crime in certain cases before deciding whether or not to grant bail to an accused.

A support group for families of homicide victims welcomed the move, but said it wants it to happen in all serious crime cases.

Statistics show that people on bail committed 42 murders and 115 rapes over the past five years.

They also carried out 4,199 threats of murder, assaults, and cases of harassment as well as 9,437 burglaries.

The proposed measure is part of a legal package aimed at restricting bail to suspects when charged. Other proposals include:

nObliging judges to have regard to the danger posed to people by the release of the accused.

nA presumption against granting bail for certain types of serious crimes — but this could be used to guide a judge and would not be compulsory.

nCourts will have to take into account whether or not an accused is a persistent offender.

nJudges will have to give reasons for bail decisions.

The proposals will be contained in a bail bill due to be published by Justice Minister Alan Shatter later this year.

Bail, as a condition, is strongly protected under the Constitution, and also under the European Convention of Human Rights.

Mr Shatter indicated on a number of occasions his intentions to further restrict entitlements given the level of crime being committed by people on bail, but conceded to being limited in what he could legally do. One of the proposals is an obligation on courts to consider victim evidence or victim impact statements, in certain cases, before adjudicating on bail.

Joan Deane of Advocates of Victims of Homicide said she welcomed the move but feared it was not specific enough. “The phrase ‘certain cases’ is a bit vague. It should be in all cases of serious crimes, including homicides.”

Mr Shatter also proposes to create presumptions that people charged with certain types of crimes should be refused bail.

However, this will only act as a form of guidance to judges in identifying those who pose an “unacceptable risk” of committing further serious offences if granted bail. The final decision will still rest with the judiciary.


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